Friday, June 23, 2017

Tactics of Delay, Part Ten. Online Serial. Louis Shalako.


Louis Shalako




“Ah. Captain Aaron.”

He’d had a solid three and a half hours in the rack and looked to be much refreshed.

Paul had shaved, showered, and kitted himself out in rational fashion.

There was a pistol at the waist, and he’d put his long gun in the rack by the door under his name, labeled there by some anonymous trooper. Anonymous warm bodies did these odd little jobs. People came and went on various errands one must assume had been assigned by somebody somewhere. Unlike her, he’d opted for the forest camouflage pattern, with all the regulation patches and insignia. A careful suppression of individual personality, there was no mistaking who he was—a senior officer, one accustomed to being obeyed, and not taking too many noes for answers. It made sense. To show up in the blacksuit first day on the job would be a little too much. That was reserved for her and her alone, apparently.

Her command appeared to be coming together.

“Good evening, Colonel. Can someone bring me up to speed?”

“Colonel?”

“Hang on, Paul. Yes?”

“Report from Corporal Haliwell over at the warehouse.”

“Warehouse? What warehouse?”

“That’s the one where they’re assembling the drones. Colonel.”

A map of the town came up and a location was marked. It was in the northeast, far from the airport to the west and the city centre.

“Very well. Put him on.”

Vicky Chan was there, making hand motions.

Dona nodded.

“You’re relieved, Major. Get some sleep.”

Vicky slumped in relief, and turned away without further talk. She headed for the door.

The picture changed and there was Mike.

“Stick tight, Captain. We’ll fill you in as we go along.” There was a half-hour overlap on shift changes for just this reason.

Wheeler was just coming in the door and Dona waved her over.

***

“Report, Corporal Haliwell.”

“Okay, Colonel. We’ve got one drone assembled and the other two are well underway. Not bad for three or four untrained people, but the manuals were in the crates and we found all the tools we needed. They have a small fleet of trucks and forklifts, and so there’s a repair shop here as well.”

“Excellent.”

“Trooper Noya is just charging the batteries and testing the systems. He says the speed control is a pain in the ass to set up. He’s been reading the manual. He says he needs to turn on the radio and would like permission to do so.”

“Ah.”

Thoughts raced. The drone radio system would have much longer range than their personal, battlefield units. It was a control circuit, dedicated. No voice, no pictures, no sound, although data streamed back and forth…Noya was still an unknown quantity, and therein lay the hesitation.

It was also encrypted and on a secure military frequency. The Unfriendlies might take a while to intercept and identify its very short signal bursts…

“Very well. Tell him to keep it short—no chatter-bugs, okay. Where the hell are you guys, anyways?”

“It’s a little industrial park. The beauty of it is, it’s not all that developed. We’re on the outskirts of town. It’s ten or fifteen hectares and about three buildings. They’ve taken out all the trees and it’s a lot of grass and weeds. There’s a straight road, ten metres wide, five hundred metres long and with low trees at both ends. There are streetlights, but the cables are all underground. Noya says we should have no trouble taking off from here if we want.” If asked, they could shoot out most of the lights for night-time operations.

For the time being, it was better to keep it looking like no one was home and presenting no big changes in the overhead view to any enemy surveillance.

“Okay, I will have to think about that.”

Inwardly, she thanked her predecessor, and that was some real foresight. Sooner or later, she’d have to write some kind of report…it would be best not to leave Colonel Race out. The corporal waited patiently, leaving the ball in her court.

“That’s a good idea though, to use it as a miniature airfield. What’s your impression?”

“We have weapons available. Missiles, smoke, flares. Riot-gas. Anti-personnel bombs. Even a pair of light machine guns. They’re very adaptable. Noya says the thing is big enough to carry a couple of hundred kilos, maybe more. Wingspan about nine metres. There are some mini drop-tanks for it too, we were wondering if the enemy has that—they probably do, right? For the time being, battlefield reconnaissance seems to be a higher priority.” It was best to preserve the drones for as long as possible.

“I agree. What about the other ones?”

“They’re ninety percent assembled. At least now people can see what goes where, and when it comes in the sequence. Noya’s plane had two washers, about three screws and a couple of nuts and bolts left over. He says they miscounted at the factory when they were putting the hardware packages together. It’s as good an answer as any. We should have them up and running in a couple more hours. The thing is, we need to test the first one to make sure we got it right.”

“Can you launch by dawn?”



The odds of the Unfriendlies getting moving any time sooner than that seemed unlikely. With a force of that size, it might even be days.

“I think so. Probably, assuming the thing flies and that we can fly it.” There were control consoles for each machine, presumably in factory condition.

The ground stations and the aircraft each had a transmitter and a receiver. All of that would have to be assembled, tested and fine-tuned. The consoles were also used for training, simulating through VR what a real flying machine might do, and giving the soldiers a bit of experience.

That was Noya’s problem, and Haliwell’s.

“Roger that. Keep us posted—and crack open those missiles.”

The Proctor drones were capable of light missile attack, as well as surveillance, jamming and laser-designation for heavier weapons launched from other systems. They could be controlled by radio, laser, and they also had good autonomous functionality.

“How big is that warehouse? Could we hide something fairly large in there? I’m thinking of vehicles, or maybe even civilian helicopters.”

“Ah—probably. It’s probably three-quarters full in here. We could move some stuff around, make some room. What did you have in mind, Colonel?”

“Nothing yet. It’s just a thought.”

“Yes, Colonel. Oh—oh, wait. We could use a bit of relief, or maybe even just a good meal and some rest.”

“Do what you can, Corporal. We don’t have too many people to spare.”

“All right. We’ll figure something out.”

“Send someone into town and get what you want. Use a civilian van or pickup truck. Get beds, blankets and pillows if you want. The bill will be paid, and that’s all anyone needs to know. If you need cash, we’ll send someone around. Okay? Over.”

“Thank you, Colonel. Over.”

***

Dona was nearing the end of her short shift, officers working four on and four off until the situation became clearer. Rear echelon troops were working twelves, and forward elements were essentially on duty until relieved, catching food and rest when they could. They would only be able to keep that up for so long, and in an emergency, both main shifts would man the defenses behind the front-line if that term held any real meaning in modern warfare.

“Ah, Captain Herzon.”

“Good morning. Colonel.” It was the middle of the night, the Unfriendlies were still unloading, and their fire-teams were still observing.

Dressed in forest camouflage, he seemed calm and cool as they studied the screens. Inside the vehicle, the helmet was off but he still had the headset. It was all night-vision, ambient light at his end, with its eerie green and black tones, glittering highlights and not much else.

“Our people are about ready to begin the advance again.”

All they were waiting for was the word. They’d laid up for a few hours of darkness, assessing the situation and wondering about that enemy satellite.

“Hmn. The southwest isn’t a problem. My people can use the cover to best advantage, although vehicles are always going to be a problem.”

The roads, on the other hand, were both an advantage and a liability, depending on how they were used.

“Move out as soon as you’re ready. Use the dispersed formation.”

This would eliminate the possibility of them all being taken out at once.

Other than that, it was always going to be a gamble.

And being seen, selectively, was part of the plan.

***

“Takeoff in one minute.”

The sky was brightening quickly, with low cloud hanging over the hills and the promise of rain imminent.

Dona and Captain Aaron studied the proposed track. There was nothing to suggest. Noya had laid out a beeline course for the patrol station just north of Deneb City, planning to cruise all the way in fuel-saving mode. They had enough credible intelligence, they could ignore the highway for the moment.

“Data feed is good. Cameras and sensors are good. Motor’s good. Batteries are good. Control is good. Throttle up. Rolling.”

Unheard in the control room, the motor revs climbed. Noya released the brakes and she was moving, at first imperceptibly, and then with more authority.

A few seconds passed, virtual needles on the instrument display climbing their circular course.

Noya fiddled with a knob on the control board.

Listening intently, Dona heard the faint buzz of a faux-motor sound, useful as a kind of subconscious feedback to the pilot…at least that way he knew the motor was running and he didn’t have to keep looking at the revs.

Noya was taking off into a bit of a crosswind, but he seemed to be doing okay with a bit of pressure on the foot-pedals and some right rudder…

The nose lifted, the view slewed slightly to the right, and she was airborne.

“Estimated time of arrival on-station…about forty minutes. We could get there faster, but I want to feel her out a bit.”

“Roger that. Carry on, Trooper.”

“Thank you, Colonel.”

“Corporal Haliwell?” Onscreen, he was standing behind Noya’s chair, hand on the man’s shoulder.

“Yes, Colonel.”

“How are those other two machines coming along?”

“Might be another hour or so, Colonel. That’s mostly because we’re going to be hanging missile-racks and some other hard-points on them. First we have to test the systems. Over.”

“Trooper Noya.”

“Colonel.”

“How does that thing handle?”

“Ah. Well. It’s not the most maneuverable thing in the world. It’s built for stability as much as anything.” His face was intent, the interruption unwelcome but unavoidable.

“Roger that.” He was on radar now.

The track was appearing on the big board in the command centre, curving around and heading to the southwest as the machine climbed out. Noya was ignoring her, concentrating on learning the machine.

“Basically, it almost flies itself. Ah, assuming we have the balance and the trim correct.”

She watched him fiddle with the knobs, and then take his hands off the controls completely.

The machine held its course, speed and altitude pretty well, at least in the first thirty or so seconds. Throttle set, it was gently climbing. He reached down and put in one more click of down-trim on the elevators. Noya reduced power, the machine started coming down again, and he adjusted the elevator trim back up again. He was staying low, the radar-sensors all reading negative.

“All right. There you go, Colonel.” He looked up, into the camera lens.

There was a quick grin.

“I have to admit, I’m kind of impressed.”

Nice.

“Very well. Carry on, and good work.” It was as good a time as any to shut up.

***

With Captain Aaron in the hot-seat, Dona took a walk, down the stairs and out through the fabrication shop, now mostly empty. There were a few vehicles, people and weapons. One or two of the vehicles were getting serviced, an oil change and a tune-up by the looks of it going by.

Tools clanked and men and women, backs to her and heads down in the engine, muttered to each other, oblivious to her passage.

They were well in from the doors, several of which were still open. The bright glare of the day was blinding, exacerbating a slight headache that had been developing since awakening.

An unmistakable smell assailed her nostrils and her stomach resonated in sympathy. In a few short hours, she’d completely forgotten what fresh air was.

The place was fairly large, tall walls of blank, beige metal siding with dark brown trim, and a puff of blue came from around the far, southeastern corner.

This was worth investigating.

Turning the corner, she stopped dead.

“Wow.”

“Hey, it’s Colonel Graham. Hey, Colonel, want a cheeseburger?”

Her mouth closed then opened again. The kid had three big barbecues all lined up in a row, all of them going. There was a row of coolers, small picnic tents in case of rain. There was another trooper, looking sheepish in a genuine chef’s apron and tall white hat.

The troops had taken the precaution of donning grubby civilian coveralls…the boots blended in fairly well, and there were no weapons visible. The possibility, or probability, of an enemy satellite coloured every thought.

The thing just had to be up there.

“Sure. Why not.” The truth was, she was ravenous. “Well. It looks like you people are doing all right.”

“Ah, yes, Colonel.” A young man, not the least bit intimidated, was opening up bags of buns and putting them on the rear upper rack for toasting.

There were a dozen and a half meat patties on each grille, most looking close to being done.

There were a few picnic tables and shade trees, now mostly bare in the branches, where company employees gathered during better times.

The troops had paper plates, plastic cutlery, condiments, cheese slices and a big bowl of chopped onions. Tomatoes and lettuce! Holy. A company pickup came up from the far side and halted.

Doors slammed, more people were arriving, bearing gifts and booty in the ubiquitous paper sacks favoured by Denebians.

“Well. Not exactly messing about, eh?”

“No, Ma’am.” There was a quick ripple of laughter from those who caught it.

Someone proffered a colourful paper plate and the young man took it.

“Here, Colonel, take two, they’re not very big.” It was a lie, but the grin made up for it—

“Ah, thank you. This looks good.”

“Yeah, I’m looking forward to it myself, ma’am. Come on people, don’t be shy. Grab your plates and get in line. What’s the matter, you ain’t never seen a colonel before?”

With a quiet snicker, Dona moved over and grabbed a seat on the end of a picnic table, framed in two-by-fours since time immemorial and stained a deep, rusty red.

A young trooper, freckle-faced and tow-headed, came along, balancing a plate and pressed-paper bowl of chips and a cold can of grape soda. There weren’t too many empty spaces.

She nodded, indicating a seat.

With a blush and a quick glance around, he sat across from her, head down. There was a jerk and he began to rise.

“Would you like a drink, Colonel?” The pale blues eyes could barely meet hers, and that face was growing redder by the second.

“Why, yes, thank you.”

“Ah—what kind you want?” He was from Kessel, going by the accent, a bit of a cross between Dutch and something else.

If he was a day over eighteen, she would have been very much surprised.

“A grape soda would be lovely, trooper.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”



He was gone again.

The poor kid was so young, she was old enough to be his mother. Assuming one had started young—popping out them babies at seventeen or eighteen like a proper woman should.

The burger was a bit pink in the middle, but it wouldn’t kill her and this was a good opportunity for them get a look at her. A little salt might have helped.

Watching as he plunged into the small crowd, he elbowed his way to the cooler. She liked that calm, cool bit of aggression, which might have been what led him to enlist in the first place.

The Colonel wants a pop, and you guys had better get out of my way…

It struck Dona that this must be part of her mobile reserve force.

(End of excerpt.)

Images.

Image one. Confederation Public Communications Office.

Image two. Anakonda

Image three. CPCO

Image four. CPCO

Image five. Denebloa-Seven Defense Force


Previous Episodes.


Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six.
Part Seven.
Part Eight.
Part Nine.


Louis Shalako has books and stories available from Amazon.


Thank you for reading.



Friday, June 16, 2017

Tactics of Delay, Part Nine. Online Serial. Louis Shalako.



Louis Shalako




Fire Team Two was southeast of the spaceport on high ground.

“Sergeant.” It was their security number one, his sidekicks out somewhere in the boonies, ready to observe and, if called for, to fire at anything that moved in the vicinity.

“What.”

“Word from above. Fire at will.”

The trooper slunk off into the bushes again, silent as a ghost.

He nodded, studying the layout through the optical scope. His own device had the audio turned way down to avoid distraction at a critical moment.

The enemy was coming down, just before dusk, but there was light yet and the only real problem was when.

“Can you hit them while they’re coming in?” Even one would be fine.

Psychologically it would be rife, although a single round probably wouldn’t be much to talk about.

Troop transports were big, relatively simple ships, with only the minimal hardening. They were all air and big compartments in a central cylinder, surrounded by systems and shielding. 

This was mostly against stellar flares and cosmic background radiation. A hit in the right spot might cause a lot of concern…such things took time to properly repair.

“There are three separate crosswinds between here and there, Sergeant. Under braking and maneuver, that close to the ground, there’s going to be one shit-load of turbulence down here.”

Chewing his lip, the sergeant nodded.

“Okay. Why don’t we try that then. Who knows, we might get a bit of data. Try it on the first one—they’ll space themselves out and we might get lucky.” He thought. “Two, three rounds per ship, max. Let’s do armour-piercing.”

“Roger.” The kid grinned and gave him a sidelong look. “And my name’s not Max.”

“Take your time, it’s not that critical.” He just wanted to see what happened. “Max.”

Every little thing that they observed went into the notebook. Wesley was green, but he was also one hell of a shot—not so much intuitive as thorough, in doping the scope, using his brains where another might rely on courage. Or worse, ego. Even worse than that, luck.

This was something they were encouraged not to do.

Wes had a certain calm that some of the other kids lacked.

Dead heroes were essentially useless, to themselves or anyone else. They were bodies lost to the cause. Wounded heroes took up a lot of time, manpower and psychological resources.

As for the Barker, even in the pure vertical, admittedly a hard shot for people trained in conventional sniper operations, it would reach out and touch someone at a good five thousand metres. From their present location, the actual firing angle would be more like forty-five degrees.

He noted that Wes had already input the additional parameters. The youngster was struggling with the mount, much like a heavy photographic tripod for anti-air shooting. With hydraulic damping for the recoil, it weighed a good twenty kilos. The kid had been right to bring it along. That was the benefit of discipline and training. They had a bit of time, and finally the weapon was ready. Their position was on a hill, under the treeline, but with a clear view of the land and sky to the northwest. The spaceport was dead centre, but they could see part of the town north of that and the connecting roads and tracks all over the valley floor, more earth tones than actual greenery.

As far as anyone knew, the enemy was not in the vicinity.

“Here we go.”

The sergeant, eye protection darkening immediately upon looking up, watched as the hot-spots of the engines lit up the surrounding area.

That was them, all right.


Boer-class transports, and right on schedule. Data from Jane’s Fighting Ships streamed across the bottom of his VR set.

On impulse, the sergeant tapped the code for HQ into his com unit.

Graham came right on.

“Sergeant?”

“Colonel. I’ve got ten credits that says Wesley can hit that first ship before she touches ground.”

“Make it twenty and you’ve got yourself a bet.”

He could hear the laughter and imagine their faces back there.

“Twenty credits. Hmn, That’s a lot of money, but I don’t mind taking it from you. If you don’t mind losing it.”

“In that case, I’ll give you five to one.”

Five to one odds.

“Roger that. Hang on—and watch the action.”

Nothing but silence, but they were there all right.

“Sergeant.”

“Yes. Wesley. You and I will be drinking whiskey, next time we’re in town.”

There was a snort from the shooting position.

“Absolutely, Max. When has it ever been any different.”

“Smart-ass, eh. Hmn. I’ll try and remember that. Range, sixteen hundred…fifteen hundred. Fire at will, Wes. I mean, ah, Roger.”

The ship was moving past their position on a landing approach. The first enemy ship had decelerated significantly, slowly coming to a stop at low altitude as the ship read the field and verified its in-close bearings. From this distance, the size of the vessel was not overwhelming, but it was a hell of a lot bigger than a tank or a truck. It was a lot bigger than a person’s head and this kid could hit that a kilometre away under most conditions.

“Yes, Sergeant.”

Then came the crack of the Barker, its round leaving a visible trail of condensation. It punched through the air, its initial velocity over six thousand metres a minute.

There was a pause.

The ship slowly descended, kicking up all kinds of dust and crud the closer it got to the surface.

“What do you think, Wesley.”

“It’s hard to say…wait. Ah.”

The sergeant’s own display lit up.

According to the round’s data, target impact had occurred at four thousand, two hundred and thirty-one metres. That was when the tracking signal ended, upon the round’s distortion or even shattering. Plus or minus a few centimetres. It had hit roughly amidships, about three metres to the left and maybe a couple down from the aiming point, but a big target excused a lot of sins.

“Congratulations, Wesley. You just earned your pay for a whole month.”

The crack of the weapon came again, as Wesley had a small budget of rounds and there was no time like the present.

“Fire at will. Two more ships on approach. Let’s puncture every damned one of them fuckers.”

***

In the command centre, the red blip that was the Nield helo moved with painful slowness, although the distance was relatively short. At cruising speed, saving fuel and following established routine, the helicopter was doing a bare hundred-forty kilometres per hour. It was only now coming up on the airport approach.

Fire Team Two, southeast of the port, was in visual contact, having acquired it on their scopes as it came low over the last big hill and began its descent.

The three Unfriendly ships were down. The ports and hatches were open, the ramps were down, and people and machinery were swarming all over the place. They’d be in a hurry to unload, aware that they had been fired upon and not knowing exactly who was out there. How much actual damage had been done was a good question. Sometimes damage was a secondary consideration.

Seven confirmed hits was at least something.


“Whoa. Missiles in the air. Repeat, missiles in the air.” A second later, there was impact and a confirmed one missile had gotten a direct hit.

The scope swung around and the blast of the launch revealed the battery’s position.

“Mark that, please.”

“Right.” A fresh symbol appeared on the battle map.

One surface-to-air rocket battery, arguably right on the edge of the flying field. They might nail it down a bit further as things went along.

A trooper brought up the feed from the helo. The camera was still good, the ground and sky spinning wildly in the view-screen. They winced when the satchel charge, still intact, went off at the designated altitude.

Still they had a picture.

The flaming debris, trailing a cloud of black and grey smoke, dropped like a stone on fire, from its altitude of two thousand metres. If nothing else, the Unfriendlies would send out a patrol to find it. They would want to know more. They would want to recover, or more importantly, identify a body. Someone might get a crack at them, Team Three or even angry civilians. It depended what street they went down. Falling behind low hills in a big open spiral, the helo was on the ground now.

“We’ve still got a picture, Colonel.” A trooper called from across the room.

There was nothing there but branches, leaves, with the indistinct horizon on a sharp angle.

Smoke drifted across the frame, blocking it out again.

“Hmn. Nice. Have the system keep an eye on that.”

“Right.”

Half the planet hunted for pleasure or food according to the briefing notes.

She watched and listened to Fire Two for a moment. They were on high ground, in desert rather than forest, which meant night-time evasion if problems arose. Daylight would be out of the question.

“So, what do you think?”

“I can hit anything you want, Corporal.”


“Ah…how about that big, black limo pulling out from the terminal area.”

“Yeah, why not.”

“Range?”

“Thirty-three hundred metres.”

There were the usual crosswinds, dust and even bugs in the air. The light was fine with the enhancement from night vision, hardly needed until this point.

“Wait until it gets a little closer.”

“Why don’t we wait until someone gets in it.”

“Ah—right. Why don’t we do that, then. Fire when ready.”

The corporal stared through the scope, waiting.

So did Dona Graham.

***

“So. They took the bait.”

“Roger that, Colonel. Team Three reports two missiles confirmed. One hit, the other one went into the boonies a few kilometres northeast of the city. The profile reads Red-Tail, according to their best estimates.” They were definitely fired from the space and airport complex. “The second missile was a self-destruct.”

“Excellent.” Red-Tails were one of the more effective, and therefore more expensive, Unfriendly tools.

They’d just spent a quarter-million credits. They hadn’t hesitated. And rightly so—that helo might easily have taken a lot of them out. The timing of the helo’s arrival had been lucky, very lucky.

With the usual three launchers per battery, and a limited number of reloads, it was food for thought. They now had a fresh radar profile for the Red-Tails in their database.

“And hits all over the place from the Barkers.” Their two authorized fire teams had popped off anywhere from four to six rounds each, no more.

They’d been focusing on the three arrivals, the pair of smaller landing ships from the initial assault were behind and just on the verge of being out of range. These targets were being held in reserve—a real psychological point, one hopefully the Unfriendlies would spend some time in considering. In some ways, it hinted where the fire teams must be—for what that was worth.

“Yes. They will figure it out sooner or later. Thank you, Trooper.”

The young man nodded, eyes on the screen.

“More action, Colonel.”

Touching a virtual button, his board hovering in mid-air, he brought up the view from Team One’s gun-scope. The cross-hairs and mil-dots were lined up on a line of three vehicles, one big and long and black and a pair of the more familiar civilian utility vehicles following at short intervals behind. Numbers changed as the shooter or their assistant doped the scope with all available information. Firing point elevation, target elevation, range, air temperature, wind speeds, humidity, barometric pressure, local gravity. Known projectile drop from the tables, type of round, et cetera. Pure applied science. Team One was on it as well, a different perspective, with two sets of data triangulating back and forth.

So far, the Unfriendlies weren’t jamming much of anything…that must soon change.

The vehicles pulled up in front of the loading ramp of ship two. A small cluster of field-grey figures hovering at the main hatch, put their heads down and scuttled for the vehicles.

“Jesus, Christ, Corporal.”

“What?”

“Some of them are still wearing wooden shoes.”

The corporal snickered softly…

There was a momentary flash, minimal smoke.

He had fired a smart-round, data streaming back and forth, its micro-jets correcting it in flight across the intervening space.

High explosive.

“Wow.”

The impact of a round from a Barker was substantial, and the vehicle rocked on its springs. Cars and trucks were steel, plastics, composites, as opposed to paper-thin alloy, like a spaceship.

Much more of the kinetic energy had been imparted.

Even so.

Judging by the puff of dust from below and behind, and now smoke was rising, the round must have gone right through such a light vehicle, being capable of punching through seventy-five millimetres of properly-sloped tungsten-ceramic, admittedly, at much closer ranges.

The people on the ramp were headed back up the other way again…

The front window appeared to have gone opaque, with a tiny black dot for the hole and the rest was crazed and shattered as only automotive glass could without completely falling out.

The doors all flew open at once. At least four bodies flung themselves out, a couple cowering behind the machine and two making an honest break for it.

It was hard to tell if there was anybody still in there. Thin smoke lifted from the open doors, whipped away by the light breeze.

There was a moment of suspense.

The bolters seemed to have made the apparent safety of the shadows under the ship. They weren’t much of a priority, and the scope was swinging towards the next target anyways.

Let the radiation kill them. They were already casualties, and they knew it, too, turning and bolting again, using the bulk of the ship for cover.

Those in the command centre watched.

The sound was turned down, the crack of the next shot strictly imaginary.

Second vehicle, popped through the engine. The far back door opened and it looked like people desperately squirming out, which implied some training. Her best guess was that only two made it out. One would almost have to be a VIP.

“Nice. Give that guy a cookie.”

The trooper laughed. Zooming in on the icon, names came up along with service records.

It was a team of six. One vehicle, hidden a kilometre and a half away.

“I’ll just log that, Colonel.”

She laughed in spite of the tension.

One Barker, some other light weapons.

Trooper David Ovango. Five-year contract, made the class top ten in basic. All the qualifications.

He’d never fired a shot in anger. The young face came around, giving her an unreadable look.

He spoke into the microphone. Trooper Owens.

“Nice work, keep the data flowing.” Owens was one of Captain Aaron’s picks and good for him.

“Same to you, Trooper.”

“Thank you, Colonel Graham.”

With a pat on the back, she removed the headset and took a breath.

So much to be done, and so little time.

Even now, selected units were racing towards Deneb City and the Unfriendlies undoubtedly knew that, or they would very, very soon now.


(End of Part Nine.)


Image One. Confederation Public Communications Office.



Image Three. Alain Rioux


Image Four. Denebola-Seven Defense Force


Image Five. CPCO


Image Six. Colonel Dona Graham. Collection the author.


Image Seven. CPCO



Previous Episodes.


Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six.
Part Seven.
Part Eight.
 
Note: Writing a novel is tough enough without serializing the manuscript before it's even done. Basically the author needs to get to the end of the plot before he can go through it, check for errors of logic, errors, omissions and possibly taking a few small bits out. In that sense the completed novel (hopefully soon) will be superior. That's not to say this isn't fun, because it is.


Louis Shalako has books and stories available from Amazon.

 

Thank you for reading.